Coach Wagner anticipates December return

Coach Wagner anticipates December return

by Carlie BealsStaff Writer

Coach Mark Wagner, or as many refer to him,”Wags,” has been a mentor, motivator and more for his swimmers. Recently, however, Wagner has been battling Multiple Myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cell, since last April and is hopeful for his return as Simpson swimming coach in December.

“I want to be there,” Wagner said. “I’ve defined myself as a coach for 40 years… it’s what I do.”

Wagner began his coaching career at Valley High School in West Des Moines in 1967. He was the head boys and girls swimming coach until 1986, when he took a four-year break, and then returned in 1990 to once again serve as head coach. Wagner coached at Valley until 2006.

Throughout his high school coaching career, Wagner led Valley to three state championships, was selected Iowa State Coach of the Year five different times, and coached 24 individual and relay state champions.

He had the opportunity to watch one of his former swimmers compete and earn an Olympic Gold Medal at the 1988 Olympic Games and is currently the only active coach in the Iowa High School Swimming Coaches Hall of Fame. He also served as the Swimming Director for the Iowa Special Olympics from 1974 to 1994.

Wagner joined the Storm swimming team last year. He is very anxious to get back and coach the sport he loves and rejoin the Simpson community.

“I miss them terribly. It’s been a big motivator for me to get back there,” Wagner said. “I’ve wanted to be back there, I just haven’t had the strength.”

Wagner said that he has recently been feeling much better, however.

“I have felt as good in these past couple of days as I have throughout this whole process,” Wagner said.

Wagner has impacted hundreds of swimmer’s lives throughout his 40 years of coaching. Senior Swimmer Jessica Paulsen knows first-hand what it’s like to be coached by Wagner.

“He’s enthusiastic about everything,” Paulsen said. “He always wants the best for the team and for everything.”

Paulsen said the team has been doing pretty well in their coach’s absence. They are able to keep up on his recovery through his Caring Bridge Web site. His webpage currently has over 19,000 hits.

The Storm are currently being led by former Simpson swimmer Amanda Rigg, who will oversee the swimmers for the months of October and November.Wagner hopes to return in December. Paulsen wants Wagner to know that he is still very much a part of their practices.

“We miss him,” Paulsen said. “We still see him as a huge part of it.”

Stephanie Jacobs, a 2004 graduate of Valley High School and former swimmer of Wagner, has nothing but positive things to say about her former coach.

” ‘Wags’ was the best coach any swimmer could ask for,” Jacobs said. “He is truly dedicated to everyone he coaches and invests personal care in everyone and wants to see them succeed.”

She credits much of her swimming success to Wagner and his abilities as a coach.

“His [work ethic] was demanding and tough,” Jacobs said. “But I never would have pushed myself as hard as I did nor seen my times drop so much.”

Jacobs also acknowledges that it not just the Des Moines metro area that respects Wagner and all he has done for the sport of swimming, but the entire state.

“He is known and respected around the state of Iowa,” Jacobs said. “Not many coaches can say that, and it’s because he makes his swimmers the best they can be, and many of those have gone on to be state champions or (NCAA) Division I athletes.”

Athletic Director John Sirianni said although the Simpson community misses Wagner, it is very important for him to focus on his recovery right now so he can hopefully return to the Storm swimming team in December.

“He and I came to an agreement to take a leave of absence,” Sirianni said. “Taking care of getting well is much more important and we’re handling the stuff here for him.”

Sirianni said that although Wagner has only been with the Storm swimming team for a short period of time, people have nothing but good things to say about him. People throughout the entire Simpson community are constantly asking him about his recovery.

“He’s definitely established a very positive image here on campus in the short time he’s been here,” Sirianni said. “Everyone here wishes him the very best in his recovery and we hope he gets back here as soon as he is able.”

Wagner is grateful that Sirianni has been so encouraging throughout his entire recovery.

“John [Sirianni] has been very supportive,” Wagner said. “We agreed we’d talk again in December.”

One of many things Wagner is known for is his sense of humor. It is quite obvious that he has not lost that while going through his treatment. A prime example of this was when he discussed the steroid regimen he is undergoing as a part of his treatment.

“I get mine from the same place Barry [Bonds] got his,” Wagner said with a laugh.

It is quite evident that Wagner has a tremendous amount of people cheering him on, just like they have cheered on his teams for 40 years. The Storm community misses him and awaits his return.

Check Wagner’s recovery. Visit his site at:

password: markwagner1.